Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Quiet Man

In June of 1966, the Colonel's dad, then a tech sergeant in the United States Air Force, went to Vietnam for a year.  The Colonel was ten; his brother seven.  

Dad was 34.

Tech Sergeant Gregory and his wife were natives of Columbus, Mississippi, so he moved the family back to Columbus for the year.  Or, forever...  They didn't know.

That was fifty years ago.  You would think that experience would have faded into an inconsequential blip on the memory radar by now.

You would be wrong.

Watching your mother deal with sending her soul mate off to war; watching your hero leave for a year, even at the self-absorbed age of ten...;  well, that's just not something that gets relegated to irrelevancy and suborned to the subconscious all that easily. 

Turns out that year was one of the most momentous years in the Colonel's life (to be eclipsed only by the summer a scant five years later when he fell in love with the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda).

It was during that year in Columbus, Mississippi that the Colonel got his first true exposure to the idiocy of racial segregation.

It was during that year, while his hero was off to war, that a surrogate stepped in as the Colonel's Scoutmaster and kindled a fire for camping and hiking.

It was during that year, while Dad was fighting in Vietnam, that the Colonel first stood toe-to-toe with another boy, landing and absorbing punches until the two of them were pulled apart by screeching teachers and sent to sit shoulder-to-shoulder outside the Principal's office.

It was during that year that the Colonel's mother entrusted him to walk little brother to school and back; and it was that year that Mom let them go to a Saturday matinee on their own.  Barrow Elementary and the Princess Theater were an equidistant three whole blocks from home, but it felt to the two boys as if they had been commissioned to explore the Louisiana Territory.

One Saturday the matinee was a Western.  "Lewis and Clark" sat front and center as a tall man, larger than life, filled the screen.  His posture and countenance did most of the talking for him, but when he did speak it was direct and to the point.  He called a man -- who wasn't even wearing a black hat with a big buckle -- "Pilgrim." 

The Colonel turned to his little brother and whispered, "Bruce!  Who does that big man remind you of?"

"Daddy!," they both exclaimed.

It was the first John Wayne movie the Colonel ever saw.  For years afterward, the Colonel had a suspicion that his dad had a side job as an acting coach.  

The Duke had Vernon Gregory down to a T. 

You might be nostalgic for John Wayne.  The Colonel ain't.

Senior Master Sergeant A. V. Gregory, Jr., USAF (Retired) turns 84 today.  Still a quiet man to match The Quiet Man.  

Still as big as Big Jake.

Still as principled as McLintock.

Still as strict as Sergeant Stryker.

Still as gritty as Rooster Cogburn.

Still the Colonel's hero.

Happy Birthday, Dad!                  
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